Four decades ago this week, the Reagan administration got muscular when it came to a budding communist "paradise" in the Western Hemisphere. 
 

Why Grenada?


Without diving too much into the background, the Caribbean Island nation of Grenada had its elected government overthrown by a Marxist-communist coup in 1979 that suspended the constitution. In just a couple of years, Grenada was hosting nearly 700 Cuban engineers who were building a giant airstrip – long enough to host Soviet bombers – while smaller groups of Soviets, Libyans, North Koreans, East Germans, and Bulgarians had taken up residence. Meanwhile, the local Grenadian military was greatly expanded and armed with Warsaw Pact weaponry.

Things came to a head in October 1983 when the Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, was overthrown by a military junta and executed. The military council instituted a national "shoot on sight" curfew. 
 
With 600 American medical students attending classes on the island caught in the middle of the crisis, and Grenada's neighbors asking for U.S. assistance, the Reagan administration mounted Operation Urgent Fury to invade the island with "D-day" set for Oct. 25, 1983, some 40 years ago this week. 
 

The forces of Urgent Fury


The American units tasked with the operation included the reinforced 2nd Battalion/8th Marines of the 22d Marine Amphibious Unit, the ready brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, and two Ranger battalions. A small force of Navy SEALs performed beach reconnaissance for the Marines and took control of the island's radio station. Meanwhile, the Navy supplied 22 ships, including an aircraft carrier and an amphibious assault group. The Americans were joined by some 350 peacekeepers drawn from six assorted allied Caribbean nations.
 
While it may seem like the operation would be a cakewalk, planning for the invasion estimated that the combined Cuban engineer battalion and the Grenadian People's Revolutionary Army, when fully mobilized, were equivalent to 10 infantry battalions backed by armored vehicles while just four light American battalions – the Rangers, Marines, and one battalion of paratroopers – would be able to land on Oct. 25, the first day, meaning they expected to be outnumbered.

It wasn't until Oct. 28, when the Americans and the Eastern Caribbean Peace Force counted seven battalions on the ground, by which time the Cubans and PRA had laid down their arms. 
 

82nd Airborne Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Three battalions of paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division – the "All Americans" of the 2/325th Inf., 2/505th Inf., and 1/508th Inf. – would land in Grenada, although by helicopter and airlift, not via parachute. As a rapid deployment force, they were equipped with lots of new gear, including the Army's new M81 woodland camouflage BDUniforms and Kevlar PASGT helmets and vests. They were typically armed with M-16A1s, M60 machine guns, and M21 sniper rifles. (All photos: National Archives)
75th Ranger Regiment Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
The Rangers of the 1st and 2nd battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, accompanied by 35 Delta Force operators, would conduct a combat parachute jump at Point Salines, Grenada, to capture the island's airport. To cut their vulnerability to ground fire as short as possible, the Rangers jumped from the scandalously low altitude of 400 feet, hitting the ground about 10 seconds after their chutes opened. They were more distinctive from the other American forces on the island due to their old-school OG-107 olive drab fatigues and M1 steel pot helmets, whenever they weren't wearing patrol caps. 
22nd MAU, Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
The Marines of the 22nd MAU typically wore the older ERDL style of leaf camouflage uniform with M1 helmets. As you can see, the Corps had more of a shoestring budget with the radio operator in the center having a sling made from a length of cord. Also, you gotta love the ciggy in the hand of the radio operator to the left and the double pistol magazine pouches on the Marine to the right. Across the board, American forces used the M1911 as a sidearm as the Beretta M9 would not be adopted until 1985. 
USAF Security Police Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
The Air Force was also present on the ground in Grenada, albeit in smaller numbers. A four-man Combat Control Team jumped into Port Salines on Oct. 23 to plant a radio beacon for the Rangers to home in on while Air Force Security Police, above, later came in to guard captured Cuban and Warsaw Pact nationals, seen boarding an II-62M airliner for the return home. That stache, tho. 
SEALS Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
 "U.S. Navy SEALs Recon Beach Near Pearlis Airport, Grenada," by Mike Leahy, via the Naval History and Heritage Command. Four SEALs were lost at sea during the operation. 
ECPF forces Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
The Eastern Caribbean Peace Force made up of military units from Jamaica, Barbados, and Antigua & Barbuda, as well as police contributed by three other regional countries, were equipped in British fashion, with the inch-pattern semi-auto FN FAL, the 7.62 NATO L1A1, as their primary rifle. They were not involved in combat but did secure surrendered Cuban and Grenadian forces and served as a police force on the island until 1985. 
M67 Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
A lot of old weapons systems saw their swan song in Grenada. Among them was the proven 1960s-era 37-pound M67 90mm recoilless rifle, which the Rangers preferred over the jeep-mounted TOW missile system or the controversial new 46-pound M47 Dragon anti-tank launcher. The Rangers knocked out at least two Grenadian Soviet-made BTR-60PB armored personnel carriers during the invasion with the M67, showing it still worked as advertised.
Gama Goat Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Another oldie but goodie that saw use in Grenada was the 6x6 M561 Gama Goat and its M792 ambulance version, brought in by the 82nd Airborne. The Hummer would soon replace these. 
M151 Mutt Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
The M151 "Mutt" jeep that wasn't a Jeep also made an appearance in Grenada. Note the Rangers shown here are using one that is set up for night patrol, with a Starlight-scope-equipped M60 mounted and the headlights taped over. 
M151 Mutt Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
An 82nd Airborne M151 on patrol in Grenada, also with a Starlight M60 mounted. Note that it is painted desert tan, as the Pentagon at the time believed the 82nd would most likely be used in the Middle East rather than in a subtropical jungle. Similarly, the Marines of the 22nd MAU were diverted to Grenada while on the way to Lebanon.
M102 howitzer Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
The Vietnam-era M102 105mm howitzer also made an appearance in Grenada, brought in with the 82nd Airborne. The light 1.5-ton gun, made by the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois, was gradually replaced by the M119-series 105 mm howitzer in U.S. service after 1987. 
M47 Dragon Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Some new weapons systems also saw their first combat use in Grenada, such as the M47 Dragon seen here with 82nd Airborne troops. First adopted in 1975, it has been since replaced by the Javelin, which actually works. 
Rangers Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
And who doesn't love a patrol bike, seen here in use with the Rangers. Note the Ranger tab and raspberry on the Rangers to the right. 

 
Outcome


After four days of fighting, the joint American-Caribbean force came out on top while the communist government was overthrown, and the Cuban/Warsaw Pact forces were expelled. An Interim Advisory Council took office in December, and the country held a free general election the next year. 

A poll conducted two weeks after the invasion conducted by 15 Grenadian interviewers, in 30 sectors of the island found that 91 percent approved of the American intervention in the island and that two thirds of respondents believed Cuba was trying to take control of the island for military purposes. 

 

Med school students happy Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Students from the Saint George's University School of Medicine's True Blue Campus in Grenada demonstrate their feelings about American troops arriving to bring them home. 
Damaged CH-46 Sea Knight on beach in Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Urgent Fury was not without danger, with 19 Americans killed and 116 wounded in the fighting.

 

The cache


As soon as the Cubans and Grenadian PRA forces laid down their arms, the American forces found themselves with a huge haul of captured ComBloc munitions. As the Reagan administration was keen to show the world what Moscow had been doing on the island since 1979, the cache was well-documented.

No less than 1,626 early AK-47s were recovered in Grenada. Added to this were 4,074 SKS-45 rifles, another 1,120 Czech-made vz. 52/57 carbines, some 2,432 Mosin-Nagant rifles, over 300 assorted submachine guns of various types, more than 5 million rounds of small arms ammunition, RPGs, armored vehicles, anti-aircraft guns, and crew-served weapons. 
 

AKs Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Early Type 2 and Type 3 milled receiver AK-47s. The easiest way to tell the Type 2s, which were only made between 1949 and 1954, is that they have a socketed boot escutcheon connecting the stock to the receiver such as the gun in the middle. The later Type 3 was made from 1953 to 1959 and was replaced with the stamped receiver AKM after that. Note the Uzi to the side as well. 
AKs Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Many of the AKs were still arsenal-packed in the crate. Oof. 
Rangers with captured guns Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Rangers with captured Type 2 and 3 AK-47s and a Czech-made vz. 52 light machine gun. Note the irregular webbing gear of the Ranger to the right, optimized to carry extra mags. 
Bren machine guns Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Grenada had been a British colony for two centuries before independence in 1974, and London had equipped its pre-communist defense force. The Americans logged two Bren Mk.III light machine guns and 58 Enfield bolt-action rifles in .303 along with 17 STEN Mk II and seven Sterling SMGs, which were no doubt left over from that force. 
Czech rifles Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
The Czech vz. 52 and vz. 52/57 were present in large numbers. Chambered in 7.62x45 (vz. 52) and 7.62x39 (vz. 52/57), these semi-auto gas-operated carbines are often seen as sort of the Czech SKS. 
Mosin M44s Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Some of the Mosin-Nagant rifles, apparently all M44s with side-folding bayonets, mixed in with a handful of other captured firearms. 
Captured guns Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
More Mosins, with a vz.52 and an AK making a guest appearance. Note the AK-47S folding stock variant as well. 
PKT Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
One of the nine PK machine guns, this one a solenoid-fired PKT meant for vehicle use. Note the circa 1963 Chinese-marked ammo from the No. 9S factory in Yuli City. 
PKT GPMGs Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
The Kalashnikov-designed PK, chambered in 7.62x54R, is considered by many to be one of the best belt-fed GPMGs ever made. 
Guns captured Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Note, besides the PKM, a selection of rifles including an AK-47S, a vz.52, a Mosin M44, a Mk.III Enfield, and a Martini-Henry. There is also a break-action single-shot shotgun and what appears to be a Czech CZ Model 23/25 SMG to the right. 
SMGs Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Assorted SMGs. Recovered burb guns included 180 Soviet WWII-era PPS-43s in 7.62mm Tok, and 55 Czech Sa 23s plus a smattering of UZIs, M3 Grease Guns, and others. 
BTR-60 APCs Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Armored vehicles included at least eight BTR-60PB armored personnel carriers, which was still a fairly contemporary design for the time.
BRDM-2 armored car Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
And two BRDM-2 armored cars, one seen here under "new management." The other one was burned out after encountering a Marine M-60 tank. 
73mm SPG-9 recoilless rifles Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Crew-served weapons included eight 73mm SPG-9 recoilless rifles alongside 10 82mm mortars. 
Ammo Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
At least 162 73mm recoilless rifle rounds and over 8,900 82mm mortar rounds were cataloged. 
Czech-made M53 quad 12.7mm Dshk-gun anti-aircraft weapon Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Three Czech-made M53 quad 12.7mm Dshk-gun anti-aircraft weapons were found.
ZU-23-2 Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
As were a dozen very lethal ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns with 86,332 rounds for them. 
RPGs Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
More than 40 assorted Chinese-made RPG-2s and smaller numbers of Soviet-made RPG-7s were found. Above, a three-pack of RPG-2 grenades pre-loaded in a handy carrying pack. 
Soviet F-1 frag grenades Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Soviet F-1 frag grenades, some of 1,824 found, resting on a case of 7.62
Ammo Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Then there was the ammo
Ammo Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Including more than 5.5 million rounds of 7.62. 
Oficina Economica Cubana marked ammo, Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Some of it was marked as a gift from the Oficina Economica Cubana (Cuban Economic Office) 
Soviet gear Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
There was also literally tons of support equipment including radios, range-finding gear, and the like, often new in the box and complete with manuals. All would prove of interest to Western intelligence. 
Communist propaganda Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Also found were warehouses full of communist propaganda, ready to turn Grenada into a worker's paradise. 

 
What happened to all the captured weaponry in Grenada, according to Army publications, is that was centrally collected by the 82nd Airborne at Point Salines over the course of two weeks. By that time, the Rangers had returned to the states and the Marines had gone back aboard their ships, headed to Lebanon.  
 

Captured gun in Grenada Operation Urgent Fury 1983
Talk about one of everything...


Organized and palletized by the 548th Engineer Battalion, it was moved to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland by several C-141 cargo planes with the final shipment being via freighter, the SS Dolly Thurman, which left Grenada bound for the U.S. on Nov. 14, 1983. Among those items sent by freight were three working BTR-60PB APCs, something of an intelligence coup. 
 
Some of it wound up in assorted military museums across the country. Some of it was sold off to consumer operations – hence some captured Czech vz 52/57s in U.S. circulation. And some just, well, you know the government...
 
There are also documented individual war trophy bring-backs from Grenada, again usually vz. 52/57s. 

Nonetheless, there were other caches that would be found later. When the vacated Cuban embassy complex was being inspected the following April, another million rounds of assorted ammo was found under a false floor.

For more information on Operation Urgent Fury, there is the Marine Corps publication, a 686-page U.S. Army Center of Military History publication, and the everlasting Clint Eastwood as Gunny Highway in the 1986 Grenada-adjacent war film, "Heartbreak Ridge."

 

 

revolver barrel loading graphic

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